Significantly more facial recognition at German police

Queries of biometric photographs in the INPOL file are increasing drastically; at the Federal Police they have more than tripled in comparison with the previous year. Face recognition is also becoming increasingly successful, with twice as many people being identified as in 2018.

In public spaces, police authorities in Germany do not use facial recognition in real time, but retrospectively. The technology is intended to identify unknown persons whose photos were taken by video surveillance, for example, near crime scenes. After the G20 summit in Hamburg in 2017, the police there also wanted to determine suspected criminals with facial recognition, but the success was poor.

The biometric facial images with which the photos of unknown persons are compared are stored in the police database INPOL-Z. Although it is centrally managed by the Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA), it is operated together with the state criminal investigation offices. The Federal Police can also access it. The number of photographs stored with personal data in INPOL has once again risen significantly, with around 5.8 million portrait photographs of 3.65 million people. Compared to 2018, the increase is about five percent (310,000 photos).

Inexplicable increase

The numbers are given in the reply of the State Secretary in the Federal Ministry of the Interior, Hans-Georg Engelke, to a parliamentary question. The Ministry does not give a reason for the strong increase. The INPOL file contains mainly facial images from identification procedures, which must, however, be removed again within certain time limits. According to Engelke, however, a detailed evaluation of the „added and deleted photographs“ is „currently not possible“ due to the corona situation.

There is also a strong increase in the number of queries for the 5.8 million photographs via the facial recognition system (GES) maintained by the BKA. This trend can be seen every year, but for 2019 year the rise in the Federal Police is particularly noticeable. Their photo searches have never been as high as now, at around 5,200, and compared to last year they have even more than tripled. In total, German police forces launched about 54,000 searches in the GES last year.

Queries for Federal Police and Criminal Police

There has also been a significant increase in the number of people identified using facial recognition. In 2019, more than 2,100 were found, twice as many as in the previous year. Here, the increase occurred primarily at the criminal investigation offices.

People identified with facial regognition.

There is no explanation for the increase, it may be due to the constantly improving resolution of cameras, but it is also possible that the software has been updated. The change to a completely new recognition system, as the BKA considered it some years ago and already commissioned a study, has not been followed yet, according to the answer now available.

Political department keeps its own file

In addition to INPOL, the BKA also maintains its own comparatively small file „ST-Libi-Z“ with about 3,500 photographs of almost 3,000 people involved in politically motivated crime with a focus on „religious ideology“. The „ST“ stands for „state security“, the „Z“ as in INPOL for „central“. Only the BKA itself has access to them to identify „unknown police relevant persons“.

In the „Libi“ file the BKA investigators search manually, which means in investigations for each individual case. In 15 „urgent“ cases, however, persons stored there have been compared with the photo stock in INPOL-Z. According to the Federal Ministry of the Interior, „Libi“ enables automated image comparisons. This means that it could serve as a reference file if the Federal Police should ever start using automated face recognition in public sphere.

Autor: Matthias Monroy

Knowledge worker, activist, editor of the German civil rights journal Bürgerrechte & Polizei/CILIP.